The history of science is full of examples of advances that seemed marvelous at first, but later turned out to have unexpected effects. Synthetic chemicals--detergents, for example--were produced and used on a large scale before anyone recognized the problems caused by their inability to biodegrade. A similarly adverse situation manifests itself today in the depletion of the ozone layer.

The problem is more troubling when the effects of scientific development are legal or sociological. In such cases, developers are even less able to anticipate the consequences, since they lie beyond their expertise.

The field of genetic engineering and DNA manipulation--applied, for instance, in the creation of DNA "fingerprints" for criminal investigations--is an important arena in which such problems are likely to occur. Assuming the reliability of genetic identification, major issues of privacy loom ahead, given the abundance of genetic information about individuals that could become available. Will such information be...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?